Putting pen to paper with Papier

Illustration of bird

What if progress was about looking backwards as well as forwards? Taymoor Atighetchi, CEO and founder of Papier, celebrates the art of letter writing in the modern age

By Mark Hooper   Friday 6 March, 2020

‘Paper is such a rich resource,’ says Taymoor Atighetchi, CEO and founder of Papier, the modern stationery brand that started in the UK. Whether it’s the history of paper or the messages it carries, Atighetchi expounds his theory that it offers us rare ‘meaningful connections’ in the digital age. ‘The most valuable resource for us now is time,’ he says. ‘No one has enough. And so when someone receives something that clearly takes time – and to write a great letter takes not only that, but also energy and creativity – then the value of that message is so powerful.’

For Atighetchi, effort is the key ingredient. ‘There are studies that show when people connect their minds to pen and paper, more thought goes into what they write. That’s when the magic happens, compared to when you’re on the tube writing on WhatsApp.’

In today’s constantly connected, always-on age, it’s not a coincidence that Atighetchi has built a disruptive, progressive brand by taking inspiration from such a traditional, offline experience. ‘Which also brings us back to the theme of easy versus hard,’ he says. ‘While the digital age has made things easier and quicker, we are also losing something in the transaction: a sense of value and a deeper connection.’ But Papier’s success is not, as some might conclude, simply about sentimental longing or wistful thinking. ‘Nostalgia alone was never going to build the business,’ he explains. ‘The majority of our customers are aged 25 to 35, so the internet was already around when they were born. It’s deeper than nostalgia; there’s something innately human about receiving physical products.’

Atighetchi is realistic about the advantages of digital – it has helped him to create a modern, bespoke service, after all – but he maintains it has still left a space for his tangible items to fill. ‘I think digital has found its place. If you’re running 10 minutes late, it’s a life-saver. In that situation, paper doesn’t have a role to play,’ he says. ‘But what I think people have found is that the online world stops at a certain point. And I genuinely still believe that when you’re in a meeting and taking notes, paper is the most perfect material. It’s light, recyclable and will biodegrade in two to six weeks. You discard your iPad and you’re throwing away aluminium, glass and precious metals. Paper is a far superior material – and far superior mode – than digital can ever be in that respect.’

And, for all the ease that online communication platforms offer us, nothing matches receiving a physical, handwritten note. ‘It takes practice. I try to write as much as I can,’ says Atighetchi. ‘You think about it in a different way. You pause and breathe… and it’s hard. The fact that it’s difficult is important. Whenever I go to weddings and the priest gives his speech, nine times out of 10 he talks about how marriage is tough – and that’s what makes it great. I think there’s truth in that; things that are hard are more valuable. When you receive a letter, it might be really fluid and easy to read, but that’s because a lot of effort went into creating it.’

Atighetchi’s background is in understanding the value of things. ‘I’m from an art and antique-dealing family,’ he says. ‘My surname means “antique dealer” in Farsi, the Iranian language. I was brought up in a house full of antiques, always asking “What’s that? Where’s that from? How much is that worth?” By the time I was 17 I could buy and sell, because I knew how much something was worth, and whether it was undervalued or overvalued, so I set up my market stall on Portobello Road.’ The link between his past and current profession is, he says, a prosaic one: ‘I still sell things. And paper is actually a key part of antiques, in books and written objects; I’ve sold a lot of paper manuscripts in my time. I believe the story that comes with an item is what makes it valuable, so you shouldn’t just sell something, you should love it. For my dad, a sale was the saddest moment, not the happiest, because he thought, “I’m not going to see that again.” I find that fascinating and inspiring.’ And that’s the beauty of a physical product like paper – it can last forever.

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